Govt wants to criminalize free speech using cyber laws – Bloggers

Bloggers of Zambia co-founder Richard Mulonga says the process of enacting new cyber laws in Zambia is a malicious and blatant attempt to criminalise and license freedom of expression.

And Mulonga has observed that the Internet has brought more good than bad to the country’s economy.

Speaking when he featured on the BBC’s World Service radio, Tuesday, Mulonga observed that freedom of expression was one of the major pillars of democracy.

“As Bloggers of Zambia, as journalists and even activists, we view this process of enacting cyber laws in Zambia as malicious and blatant attempt to criminalise freedom of expression, license freedom of expression. And we feel that freedom of expression should not be licensed, should not be criminalised because freedom of expression is one of the major pillars of our democracy. People have to hold power to account! People have to participate in our governance system and people have to give their views and opinions, they have to share ideas and information,” Mulonga said.

And Mulonga said Zambia already had adequate laws which needed to be strengthened than coming up with new ones.

He insisted that the Internet had brought more good than harm to the country’s economy.

“Zambia already has adequate laws that are dealing with what is happening on the Internet. And if we look at a cost-benefit analysis, there’s more good that the Internet has brought in Zambia’s economy than bad. Already, people that are doing whatever they are doing on the Internet, they are being charged using [the] Public Order Act, using the penal code and some other subsidiary laws that exist. Why can’t we strengthen the existing laws other than coming up with these draconian laws that they are proposing?” he asked.

Below is the verbatim of the interview:

Juliane Keane: Zambia plans to introduce strict regulations per social media usage. The new regulations are aimed at fighting cyber-crime. According to the country’s Communication’s Minister, Brian Mushimba, he says the government is only trying to modernise its laws in an Internet age and to protect Zambians against scam and hate speech. Other countries that have implemented cyber laws include: Tanzania and Uganda. Richard, what’s your reaction to these regulations, not yet introduced, but obviously being talked about?

Richard: As Bloggers of Zambia, as journalists and even activists, we view this process of enacting cyber laws in Zambia as malicious and blatant attempt to criminalise freedom of expression, license freedom of expression. And we feel that freedom of expression should not be licensed, should not be criminalised because freedom of expression is one of the major pillars of our democracy. People have to hold power to account. People have to participate in our governance system and people have to give their views and opinions, they have to share ideas and information. So when you begin to have social media taxes, you begin to put in place laws that are going to instil fear in the minds of citizens from holding power to account then our basic tenets of democracy are being eroded. And this is what we are seeing across Africa, and Zambia is also borrowing from that type of dictatorship!

Juliane: But your Communication’s Minister, Brian Mushimba, told Parliament on Thursday that the new regulations are aimed at fighting cyber-crime, reducing online pornography, he also said it is evident that social media in Zambia has become a catalyst, a sort of detachment of the Zambian society from cultural norms. Is that a justifiable argument to try to implement new regulations?

Richard: That is a lame-duck excuse because Zambia already has adequate laws that are dealing with what is happening on the Internet. And if we look at a cost-benefit analysis, there’s more good that the Internet has brought in Zambia’s economy than the bad. Already, people that are doing whatever they are doing on the Internet, they are being charged using Public Order Act, using the penal code and some other subsidiary laws that exist. Why can’t we strengthen the existing laws other than coming up with these draconian laws that they are proposing? It’s basically the state getting interested in what citizens are doing with their freedom of expression online. The state doesn’t want the citizens and journalists to hold them to account using the Internet.

Juliane: The Communication’s Minister has also said that Zambia had adequate laws already to police online behaviour. But he also showed Zambians that the country would not be following in the footsteps of Uganda, for example. He said that the Zambian government had no plans to introduce a levy on social media because the country already had enough laws to protect Zambians.

Richard: Exactly, and why are they drafting these laws in secrecy, the process is not participatory with the input of journalists, bloggers and activists? Why are they making the laws in the night and not in the open where we can see what the content of cyber laws are? Why in secrecy? We, the Bloggers of Zambia, are leading the campaign called ‘open space ZM’ because we want the Internet to remain open for citizens to assemble online and for citizens to exchange information, for citizens to enjoy their freedom of expression online. So, we are saying, ‘open the space for freedom, open the space for press freedom, open the space for governance.’ Because the physical space, the radio stations, TV stations and the newspapers are closed for certain voices that are critical of the state, and the voices that they don’t like. So, we cannot rely on the new cyber laws to be able to police and restrict people’s freedoms. It’s an abuse of human rights.

         

Zondiwe Mbewe

About Zondiwe Mbewe

Zondiwe is a vibrant young Zambian journalist who has interest in writing political and current affairs on issues which affect every Zambians. She draws inspiration from journalists who stand for what is right and are not afraid to tell and show the truth to the people.
Email: zondiwe [at] diggers [dot] news

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